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The Time Of Our Lives – 20 Years Ago

Sydney 2000 Olympics 20-Year Anniversary

Arthur Stanley

General Manager Media & Communications

Stadium Australia


WHERE were you on the evening of 15 September 2000? When our golden girl Cathy Freeman lit the flame for a Sydney Olympics that were destined to become “the best ever” Games.

Were you at the Sydney Olympic Stadium that night? Or one of the 3.7 billion TV viewers around the world who tuned in to the momentous events unfolding in Sydney?

It’s now 20 years since we welcomed the world here at Stadium Australia, Sydney’s Olympic Stadium. 20 years since the exceptional Sydney Games became a turning point for our great city.

The Sydney 2000 Games were a true celebration of Olympic values and sporting excellence, but they were also a point in history – a fortnight that bonded Sydneysiders like never before and showcased to the world our amazing harbour city.

So many of us can still call on a live stream of golden memories from the Sydney 2000 Olympics . . . so significant was this event in our lives, and in the lives of every Australian.

The Games were special due to the outpouring of national pride, the friendliness Australians showed toward their fellow citizens and overseas visitors, and the remarkable achievements of our young athletes. But also because they were so well organised, and nowhere better was this evident than at the Olympic Stadium.

The arrival of the Olympic Torch on our shores had generated a sense of mateship, warmth and goodwill and by the time the flame reached Sydney all Australians had been touched by the Olympic spirit.  

This was truly a special time in our lives. A time we will never forget.


The Opening Ceremony

The Sydney Olympics featured 199 competing countries and 10,651 athletes who marched in the parade of nations at the Olympic Stadium.

The Opening Ceremony was a stunning tribute to Australian culture, history and identity.

And while most people will remember “hero girl” Nikki Webster flying across the arena, everyone will surely remember the moment that defined the Games – when golden girl Freeman had the honour of lighting the Olympic torch, igniting the flame in The Cauldron within a circle of fire. The emotional moment helped symbolise the desire to reconcile with the Aboriginal populations of Australia.

Ten days later, in front of 112,524 fans, then the largest attendance for any sport in Olympics history, Cathy raced to gold in the women’s 400m.

Our Aussie team won 58 medals: 16 gold, 25 silver, and 17 bronze. By the time a squadron of jet fighters roared across Sydney from the Stadium to the Harbour to close the Games, our nation had staged an event so good it set a new benchmark for the Olympic movement.

One of the extraordinary characteristics of the Sydney Olympics was the number of volunteers – all 46,967 of them, which had grown from an original number of 500 as Sydneysiders embraced the Games like no other city had done before.


The Sydney 2000 Olympics legacy

Today, Stadium Australia stands as a magnificent legacy of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, with more than 29 million fans having passed through the Stadium turnstiles to watch some of Australia’s most iconic sporting moments and biggest entertainment events.

And Cathy Freeman Park – located just outside the eastern gates of the Stadium – is a tribute to our golden girl’s 2000 heroics.

The original Olympic Cauldron, with its distinct water fountain, can be found at the northern end of Cathy Freeman Park.

The tunnel that brought the athletes into the Olympic Stadium for events now links to the NSW Rugby League Centre of Excellence, and the Blues players call on the spirit of the Olympics as they pass through the tunnel on State of Origin game nights.

Many of the other original Olympics venues are still used successfully to host sports, cultural and entertainment events in Sydney Olympic Park.

Before the global pandemic changed our lives, the Stadium would welcome up to 1.6 million fans every year for events. Thousands more visit the Stadium for conferences, lunches and celebrations, or as part of a tour. As many as 13 million people visited the wider Sydney Olympic Park, which hosts more than 5000 events each year.

It was on February 15-16 this year that 70,520 fans packed in to Stadium Australia to witness rock legends Queen & Adam Lambert on the Saturday night before 75,000 fans turned out for the Fire Fight Australia concert the following day.

The Fire Fight concert was an event that showcased the absolute best of Australia and the nation’s fighting spirit: 10 hours of entertainment, 23 acts, 75,000 fans, a global TV audience of millions, and a whopping $10.7 million raised for bushfire relief funds.

Many people likened the atmosphere at this big concert weekend to the energy that was evident during the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

And it is that Aussie spirit that will ensure the nation bounces back strongly after COIVID-19 inevitably becomes a recent memory.

The mighty Sydney 2000 Games was an event that shifted Sydney on its axis. From the night Cathy lit the flame, the city’s focus began a slow, definite and logical drift. The physical mass of 1.5 million-plus fans each year attending events at Stadium Australia created a new gravitational force – dragging the city’s consciousness away from the ocean fringes.

Today, the Stadium helps meet the demands of Greater Western Sydney – the fastest growing community in the country – and provides a major events Stadium for people throughout the Greater Sydney area.

The memories of the Sydney Olympics will surely flood back for all Australians this September  – 20 years since Sydney hosted those magnificent Summer Games at the turn of the century.

Relive some more of the memories of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games here:

Head here to see some of our favourite images of the Stadium in a gallery

Head to our YouTube channel here for a catalogue of videos on the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games

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